Covering the tournament first hand for RedNation Online was a great experience for many reasons, the main one was being able to see some of CONCACAF’s rising talent and pinpointing players to watch in the future.
The one downside to how the tournament was formatted is not being able to see the Group B matches taking place in Los Angeles, however along with covering the Group A matches in Nashville I did watch the Semifinal and Final taking place in Kansas City on TV.
In this article I will go over the players that impressed me and are my ones to watch going forward:
Although the likes of Mexico, Honduras and our own Canadian boys showed me something the team that stood out to me the most was El Salvador, going into the tournament this was a squad that only had two players playing outside of the domestic league and were penciled in as third place finishers in the group. They not shocked viewers by getting out a group that had USA and Canada but finished top of said group and played in an epic semifinal match against rivals Honduras that went to extra time.
Here are the players that stood out to me:
FWD - Isidro Gutierrez
While he ended up with 0 goals in the tournament this is a player that showed himself very well and has what it takes to play either in MLS or Europe, he absolutely tormented Canada’s makeshift left back Russell Teibert in the first match with his size and skill in the wide position. I got the sense that he would much rather play in a central role but the tactics that El Salvador deployed gave him a much better match up out wide over playing against more physical central defenders. All of the talk surrounding this team going into the tournament was on fellow forward Dustin Correa who is one of the two aforementioned players based in Europe, however Gutierrez in combination with the next player worth mentioning made him a fixture on the bench.
FWD – Lester Blanco
This player came in with a bit of a track record for scoring goals and proved to be a quick starter, scoring his first goal of the tournament against Cuba in the 4th min and scoring the first goal against USA in the shocking 3-3 draw. Blanco proved to have pace and is a quick reader of situations, able to create space and make the smart and timely run. This is a player that is firmly in the mix for the Salvadorian senior side as at last count has scored 5 goals, this is a player to watch during FIFA World Cup Qualifying as El Salvador plays Mexico, Costa Rica and Guyana in their Round 3 group. Blanco is another that could find himself in MLS, South America or Europe, however you get the sense that his clubs preference would be to Europe and specifically a league that is more predicated on creativity (Dutch Eredivisie, French Ligue 1, Belgian Pro League etc…).
MID – Andres Flores
Although he’s the other player already based in Europe, Flores proved himself in my opinion to be the best Salvadorian player on the squad and has made a serious case to play in a higher caliber league than the Danish First Division. Putting his 3 goals aside for a moment that came against Cuba and USA this player showed great vision, elusiveness and comfort on the ball. His ability to join the attack and have enough recovery speed to get back into a defensive position was clearly evident, something he showed particularly well against USA. It may be a small sample size but Flores showed me the consistency needed in a period of three games in five days, don’t be surprised if he lands on a mid to lower level Spanish, Portugese or Dutch club.
MID – Jaime Alas
The hero on the team due to his game-tying goal against USA that saw El Salvador top the group, Alas had a complete tournament. Playing as the main connector between the midfield and attack he is yet another player that could find himself plying his trade outside the local league, as a matter of fact he did have a trial with San Jose Earthquakes of MLS prior to the tournament and has now caught the eye of other teams in the league. However if he puts together a solid World Cup Qualifying to go along with this performance a European team may be in his near, something I can guarantee you MLS would be kicking themselves about.
Honorable Mention: DEF - Xavier Garcia, GK - Yimi Cueller
The Canadian team had a solid tournament and although it didn’t end with accomplishing the ultimate goal a lot was learned about this group of players. The landmark 2-0 victory over USA showed that Canada certainly is on their wat to close the gap between themselves and the top two CONCACAF nations (Mexico and USA), although they lost 3-1 to Mexico in the Semifinals there were moments in the match that they showed a high work rate.
Here were the players that really made an impression on me:
GK – Michal Misiewicz
Far and away Canada’s best player in the tournament the play of the FC Edmonton keeper was the primary reason why Canada ended up making the Semifinal round, especially after bailing out the rest of his teammates in the opening match against El Salvador he only managed to up his game against USA in what was arguably the biggest victory in Canadian Men’s soccer since the historic year of 1986.
Misiewicz displayed an ability to stop shots, deal with crosses and start attacks, he had a few moments of miscommunication with his central defenders but that is somewhat expected with the short preparation time and three games in five days, he’ll improve on this as he matures.
DEF – Andres Fresenga
Outside of one or two people deeply involved in Canadian soccer nobody knew Andres Fresenga (or Lucas Cavallini for that matter) even existed, however this is a player that showed really good awareness and willingness to support the attack. With right back being such a void in the Canadian system since Paul Stalteri was leading the side Fresenga has not only thrown his hat into the ring but in my opinion has earned himself a call up for the friendly match against USA in early June, the challenge for him will be can he produce this type of performance at a higher level and show consistency. If Fresenga can go from strength to strength and show continuous improvement wile plying his trade in Uruguay there is no reason he can’t be Canada’s starting right back in the very near future.
MID – Samuel Piette
If Misiewicz was the consensus best Canadian player in the tournament then Samuel Piette is the player that in my opinion is most ready for the jump up to the next level, having not seen any time in the friendly against Armenia in Cyprus the jury was still out on how good he really is. However at only 17 years of age it was clear to see why the coaches are so high on him, he proved over the course of the tournament to be a natural deep lying playmaker.
While I don’t want to get ahead of myself I’m really excited about what Piette can provide in this position as to my knowledge this is would be the first time since “the good ole days” that we possess a deep lying playmaker that can tackle, make pin point passes to teammates in stride, track back to break up a counter attacks and exploited pockets of open space. Call me a dreamer but imagine how strong the midfield would be with him and Jonothan De Guzman along side Atiba Hutchinson, Julian De Guzman, Dewayne De Rosario and Will Johnson etc…
FWD - Lucas Cavallini
As I mentioned with Andres Fresenga the overwhelming majority of Canadian supporters didn’t even know a Lucas Cavallini existed much less that he’s a Canadian, however what this player showed in his time on the pitch the recent crop of Canadian forwards just don’t possess.
Cavallini played like a bull in a china shop and showed no fear, while the likes of Simeon Jackson and Olivier Occean have more pace or an Ali Gerba and Rob Friend play as target men with more size this player clearly gets under the skin of opposition defenders (just ask US defender Ike Opara). If you had no reason to watch Uruguayan league soccer before you definitely have one now, as both he and Fresenga will be interesting to track in terms of progress and development.
Honorable Mention: FWD – Evan James, MID - Philippe Davies, DEF – Russell Teibert
The odds on favorites not only to top the group but win the tournament and do damage at the London Olympic Games the Americans had a monumental collapse, after their 6-0 victory over Cuba the team looked well on their way to accomplishing the end goal. However a shock 2-0 defeat to Canada and the heartbreaking 94th minute goal in a must win game against El Salvador saw The Stars and Stripes crash out.
Of a group that was largely disappointing here are a few players that stood out and are ones to watch in terms of call-ups for the USA senior side:
MID - Joe Corona
If I were to select one player who made a positive impression from a USA perspective in this tournament it would have to be Club Tijuana midfielder Joe Corona, not only did he record a hat trick in the tournament opener against Cuba and the goal against El Salvador that made it 3-2 but he also showed the movement and intelligence to get himself into the right positions.
With Jurgen Klinsmann stating in the past he’s looking to use USA’s Hispanic influence for the national team in my opinion he has earned himself a call up to the next friendly matches in late May and early June against Scotland, Brazil and Canada. All the recent discussion surrounding US players in the Mexican First Division has been focused on Herculez Gomez, who to his credit has been scoring goals like they’re going out of style (as Toronto FC supporters are all too familiar with). However a player like Corona is an asset that at only 21 years of age has a very high ceiling.
FWD – Terrence Boyd
Prior to the tournament the three players I wanted to see something from when it came to USA were Mix Diskerud, Joe Gyau and Terrence Boyd, while Diskerud didn’t really impress and Gyau showed flashes when given an opportunity but was still largely inconsistent the play of Boyd when the team needed a spark the most showed me why Klinsmann is so high on him, why he was called up to the squad for the friendly match against Italy and how this “German Invasion” of American military kids is starting to shape the US squad. While he was on the bench in the first two matches Coach Caleb Porter handed Boyd the start against El Salvador and he obliged with a brace, the first coming in the 1st minute and the second coming in the second half in response to the Salvadorians taking a 2-1 lead. It will be interesting to see where Boyd finds himself in the pecking order of USA forwards, with Teal Bunbury and Brek Shea being largely anonymous and Juan Agudelo suffering a torn meniscus he may have earned himself more of a look in the coming friendly matches.
DEF – Perry Kitchen
Taking into account he was playing out of position as a central defender (normally plays in midfield) and the players immediately around him (Bill Hamid, Ike Opara, and Zarek Valentin amongst others) having horrible showings I don’t think Perry Kitchen had as bad a tournament as has been reported or as it may have seemed, I think Kitchen playing the lone role as the “hard man” on the team was to his detriment This wasn’t helped by the fact that the front men lacked the ability to track back and apply pressure, something that is a must when there is only one recognized defender within the squad. If there is one issue that the US need to figure out it is are we developing enough defensive talent? Right now the answer is an emphatic NO. With the USA midfield having a logjam I doubt Kitchen will find himself getting a call up in his natural position anytime soon, however if he develops a defensive instinct with DC United it’s not out of the question that he could be used as a depth player in defense.
While it’s difficult to pick out players on a team that finished bottom of the group, concede 11 goals and saw three players receive red card suspensions there were a few players that showed some skill and are definite selections for the senior national side during FIFA World Cup Qualifying. This is a team that showed physical strength and decent wide play, two important ingredients that serve a team well in CONCACAF.
Here are the Cuban players that made an impression:
GK – Odisnel Cooper
It may be strange to say a keeper that conceded as many goals as Cooper did is a player to watch, however considering the players in front of him showed no discipline and he found himself playing with a handicap half the time I believe he did quite well. This is the first player that Cuban coach Raul Triana Gonzalez pinpointed as a player that will be in the squad for World Cup Qualifying, he showed decent command of his area and good decision-making.
FWD – Heviel Cordoves
The one player that showed the best for Cuba in my opinion was Heviel Cordoves, the big center forward was a handful for central defenders and was the main focal point of the attack. The one aspect of his game that needs improvement is ball control, as much of the time he stumbled over the ball or his own feet. That said he is another player that Coach Gonzalez stated would be in the World Cup Qualifying squad.
DEF – Dayron Blanco
The provider of the lone goal against Canada to earn their only point of the tournament the Cuban right back played extremely well in the wide positions, as a matter of fact he was the player that arguably gave makeshift Canadian left back Russell Teibert the most difficulty.
Honorable Mention: FWD – Felix Guerra
Other players that impressed me were the Mexican contingent of forward Alan Pulido as well as midfielders Marco Fabian and Hector Herrera, while the goal scoring of Pulido and Fabian who ended the tournament as joint leading scorers with 5 goals a piece deserve much of the fan fare the player that really flew under the radar and had a fantastic showing in the Semifinal and Final in my opinion was Herrera. The Pachuca based midfielder displayed great field vision and ability to start attacks from a deep position, while the Mexican senior side is overloaded with talent it wouldn’t surprise me if these three along with fullbacks Israel Jimenez and Miguel Ponce slowly start to get bled into the squad.
This was a really fun and interesting tournament to cover for RedNation Online and hopefully it’s just the beginning, it will be intriguing to learn more about and follow all of these players as their careers take shapeher group as well as competing nations around the world, signalling their intent to not only qualify for the 2012 London Olympic games but possibly make the podium.